Some questions formed the basis of the curiosity that led me to buy and read the book. Australian cricket moved from rags to riches during Steve Waugh's time. Waugh, seen as a synonym for toughness, ruthlessness and the Aussie way, is generally talked about as the symbol of that transformation. But what has Steve really contributed to this rise? At a personal level - What does Waugh think about his famous 'zone'? What was his mental thought process in getting and staying there? Australia had positioned itself to be a world beater in Mark Taylor's time. But it truly became the #1 Test and #1 ODI side, by a big margin, during Waugh's period. Was it because of Waugh or because Windies and English cricket completely declined in Waugh's period. The most impressive aspect about this mammoth 720 page autobiography by Steve Waugh is that there is no trace of humility in it. Really. He praises and criticizes himself with abandon. If you are tired of all the self-effacing lies that an author puts up in the name of humility, then this is a good book. Sometimes the exact truth or the real thought process comes out when the author isn't trying to be humble. You really get to know what he really thought. Many times, and this happens through out the book, I understood the unrelenting self-promotion (as a result of the very high esteem he holds himself with) to be reflective of his character as a person. Yes! he goes to great extents to justify his actions and there are points where you begin to roll your eyes, when he justifies field placements, run calling etc. But then I felt, I was listening to his side of the story for the first time and it should be given a fair chance. For 720 pages (including an interesting mini-autobiography by Lynette Waugh) this was a fast book. I didn't feel the lengthiness of it. Never got bored. The only chapter I skipped was the chapter on Udayan because frankly I wasn't interested. This review will probably take a couple of posts to complete. Some of the many sub-plots in the Waugh career was a vehicle for me to find the answers for the questions I had while buying this book. Let me first take up the most burning sub-plot in the Waugh career; Ian Chappell Vs Steve Waugh.
While in the process of reading Waugh's book, I also read Ian's book - 'Chappell on Chappell' - and in that collection-of-articles kind of book Ian dedicates 1 full chapter to criticise and butcher Steve Waugh. The name of the chapter itself is 'Steve Waugh'. It is surprising that Indians reacted badly (as in Home-Support-Ian) to Ian Chappell's criticism of Ganguly in the 2001 series. Because Ian was also Waugh's biggest critic. If Ganguly ever wrote an autobiography, all he would need to do is cut and paste from Waugh's to describe his feud with Chappell. So I wanted to juxtapose that chapter in Ian's book and Waugh's response and indulge in a little bit of compare and contrast. Among many things, Ian is particularly harsh on two self-perceived aspects of Waugh's cricket; (a) That he was an extremely selfish cricketer (Damien Martin's run out, walking in to crease early and diluting Langer's exit applause, giving strike to Stuart Mcgill in the 98/99 ashes boxing day test) and (b) All of Waugh's innings were technically built the same way - "if you'd seen one you'd seen everything". I felt the first quality was actually a positive one. Reading the book I clearly felt that at many points Waugh's self-determination and hunger would clearly be construed as selfish by the common man. Nothing wrong with it except for the negative connotation associated with a surprisingly positive quality - selfishness. Selfishness is just like any other attribute and is negative only if it found in excess. Something, which every great player who played the game possessed in healthy quantities and one that had a causal relationship with their success. The second criticism is so moot that it is not worth elaborating on unless you are measuring style instead of effectiveness.
But Steve counters Ian, in his book, at several different points; I only sort of agreed with "I would later learn that Ian's style of commentary was to never deal in shades of grey but always be very clear in his intent. Often though I found that there was no constructive element to his criticism"; Later Waugh develops conspiracy theories when he says "He labelled me 'selfish' on Sydney radio, which to a cricketer is tantamount to being accused of treason. To me his words seemed like a well-planned move, just when the question of who would succeed Tubby as Test captained was being considered. Chappell was a big Shane Warne fan and Shane, just back from his shoulder surgery, was the only real alternative to me as the new leader." And then finally Waugh is frustrated and recursively does what he accuses Ian Chappell of doing "To say Chappell's criticism irked was an understatement, though I knew that, like anyone, he was entitled to an opinion. I don't mind the fact that he criticised me - in fact, I would rather some one make a judgement than not - but I have always felt that a critic must either be constructive or base his comments on fact. I couldn't help but think about the reasons he was so down on me. It might have been that I praised the work of Bob Simpson, who was his sworn enemy" - this although makes some sense given that Ian hates the concept of a 'coach' - it is not a constructive response from Waugh as it brings in a Vashishta-cursed-Yagnavalkya-because-Vishwamitra-likes-Yagnavalkya kind of Upanishadic twist to the story. Then Waugh adds - in a if-you-can't-fight-em-join-em kind of way - "or that I didn't spend hours in the bar drinking and regurgitating old cricket stories. Or perhaps he wasn't keen on the coincidence of me being, like him, the older brother and combative in nature. Or maybe he didn't like the fact that I refrained from playing the 'macho' hook shot." -- hardly constructive response. Finally Waugh sees sense "Whatever it was, his was a personal attack, which came from a guy I didn't know and who certainly didn't know me. It was something I had to live with, and when I realized he was never going to cut me much slack, I decided that anything he said was positive would be a bonus and the rest just cast aside." This sub-plot alone, I felt, could have laid the foundation for a potential 'this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship' between Waugh and Ganguly.